Hear Aerobic Exercise: When Soviet Musicians Recorded Electronic Music for a Subversive Home Fitness Record (1984)

Last year, Josh Baines at dance music site Thump revis­it­ed the 2004 video for “Call on Me,” a dance­floor anthem built around a high­ly rec­og­niz­able loop from Steve Winwood’s 1987 hit, “Valerie.” Draw­ing on the song’s inher­ent nos­tal­gia fac­tor, the video—which Baines calls, with­out exag­ger­a­tion, “the sex­i­est video of all time”—stages a ridicu­lous­ly lewd, sweaty aer­o­bics class, recall­ing the close asso­ci­a­tion dur­ing the 1980s fit­ness craze between sexy aer­o­bics videos and dance music, in adver­tise­ments, TV shows, MTV, movies like Hard­bod­ies and its even more ludi­crous sequel—and, of course, John Tra­vol­ta and Jamie Lee Curtis’s hilar­i­ous Per­fect, which direct­ly inspired “Call on Me.”

The “Call on Me” video is so sala­cious, in fact, that it near­ly caused then British Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair to fall off his row­ing machine while watch­ing it, a scene that would fit right in to any 80s work­out sex com­e­dy. Might we imag­ine sim­i­lar scenes of mid­dle-aged Sovi­et min­is­ters and appa­ratchiks los­ing their cool while sweat­ing to Russ­ian elec­tro and watch­ing fit­ness videos like “Rhythm,” at the top? Or per­haps even the far-less-sexy morn­ing pro­gram above from 1987, with its syn­th­pop sound­track, bag­gy sweat­suits, and what look like futon mat­tress­es for exer­cise mats?

In anoth­er exam­ple of Sovi­et aer­o­bics and dance music, one must rely upon imag­i­na­tion to get the moves right. This record, Aer­o­bic Exer­cis­es by a col­lec­tion of obscure artists, was meant for more than just home work­outs, as impor­tant as they are.

The record label Melodiya—the only record label in Sovi­et Russia—and the album’s artists man­aged to get 1984’s Aer­o­bic Exer­cis­es cer­ti­fied by the “USSR Sports Com­mit­tee,” who, writes Ter­ry Matthew at 5 Mag­a­zine, “envi­sioned these records as a sort of robot replac­ing ath­let­ic train­ers.” “I don’t know if bureau­crats dream,” writes Matthew, “but if they do, I can imag­ine them envi­sion­ing a whole nation of com­rades in leg­warm­ers, rhyth­mi­cal­ly jog­ging and touch­ing their toes in time with some of the most fas­ci­nat­ing Ita­lo-sound­ing tracks of the era.”

There is a rea­son the music sounds so inter­est­ing, though some of it, Matthews admits, is “out­right putrid.” Most of the artists were well-known engi­neers and pro­duc­ers record­ing under pseu­do­nyms. These were peo­ple already work­ing in a long tra­di­tion of Sovi­et music that stretched back to Leon Theremin but also drew influ­ence from Europe and the U.S.—“a Funk move­ment in the Sovi­et Union, and one for Dis­co, and an elec­tron­ic music move­ment too, both offi­cial & above ground and under­ground and some­where in between.” Many of those artists only man­aged to get records made “through luck, through com­pro­mise and some­times through sub­terfuge.” Records like Aer­o­bic Exer­cise rep­re­sent some com­bi­na­tion of the last two cat­e­gories, “inge­nious­ly and absurd­ly” dis­guis­ing short orig­i­nal tracks as fit­ness mood music.

You’ll notice that there’s lit­tle instruc­tion on some of these tracks, and it’s in the vocal con­tri­bu­tions that much of the music’s “Ita­lo roots are exposed” notes Matthew, refer­ring to the grand tra­di­tion of most­ly non­sen­si­cal Ita­lo-dis­co, a term for a vari­ety of elec­tron­ic dance music made in Italy through­out the late 70s and 80s. These tracks “abide and gen­er­al­ly adhere to the super­fi­cial but abid­ing prin­ci­ple of Italo—that it’s less impor­tant what words mean com­pared to how they sound.” (Russ­ian speak­ers will have to con­firm this con­tention, though one doesn’t need to stretch to dis­cern the com­mands “Left, Right, Left Right!”) If some of this music sounds strik­ing­ly hip, that’s because it draws from the same Euro-dis­co well as so many con­tem­po­rary retro-elec­tro acts. (I couldn’t help but think of Mira Aroyo’s Bul­gar­i­an con­tri­bu­tions to Ladytron.)

Aer­o­bic Exer­cise was appar­ent­ly a suc­cess, such that Melodiya “launched an entire series of records in the style of the album called Sport and Music,” a four LP-col­lec­tion with much less focus and qual­i­ty con­trol. Mov­ing away from the aer­o­bics theme, the sec­ond of these albums fea­tured “some kind of com­pet­i­tive skate­board­er on the cov­er” and some “pret­ty dread­ful Hol­ly­wood Lite inci­den­tal music. By the third vol­ume, for­mer jazz musi­cians were beat­ing out 3rd rate riffs with vague­ly elec­tron­ic-sound­ing over­tones.” As with any fad, deriv­a­tive copies over sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions will always be sub­ject to seri­ous aes­thet­ic degra­da­tion. But for seri­ous fans of Sovi­et dance music, of 80s fit­ness, or, ide­al­ly, of both, Aer­o­bic Exer­cise rep­re­sents some­thing tru­ly spe­cial.

via 5 Mag­a­zine,

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Sovi­ets Who Boot­legged West­ern Music on X‑Rays: Their Sto­ry Told in New Video & Audio Doc­u­men­taries

Sovi­et Union Cre­ates a List of 38 Dan­ger­ous Rock Bands: Kiss, Pink Floyd, Talk­ing Heads, Vil­lage Peo­ple & More (1985)

How the Sovi­ets Imag­ined in 1960 What the World Would Look in 2017: A Gallery of Retro-Futur­is­tic Draw­ings

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • aerobic workouts at home says:

    Aer­o­bic work­outs are great ways to lose the extra weight quick­ly. Also, you can do the same at home. Sim­ple exer­cis­es such as walk­ing, skip­ping, jog­ging can be done at home and help you lose some quick pounds.

  • aerobic exercies at home says:

    Aer­o­bic exer­cis­es are great exam­ples of exer­cis­es that can help you lose fat . But if you want to pre­serve the mus­cles, then you have to add resis­tance train­ing to your regime. This helps pre­serve the mus­cle and lose the fat.

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